1. Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7th)
July 2017 Box Office Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
July 6, 2017
May 1, 2008. Los Angeles.
As Tony Stark returns home, elated at victory over the treacherous Obadiah Stane [Jeff Bridges!], he is greeted in his private multi-million dollar loft by an unexpected visitor. Nick Fury, head of SHIELD, has been patiently waiting for Tony's arrival.
"Mr. Stark," Fury asks. "We're putting together a team. Very special people, with extraordinary skills. Kinda assumed you'd be interested. You think you might wanna join up, right?"
The single word, spoken in an unmistakeable accent from the corner of the room, shocks both Stark and Fury. As the theme score from The Terminator suddenly begins playing in the background, a nude, heavily-armed Austrian man steps out of the shadows. Before either of the surprised would-be Avengers has a chance to react, the man r...
Every night, the dream is the same.
The question rings in my mind again and again.
What if Iron Man, starring Robert Downey, Jr., had never been released on that fateful night in May 2008 (or ever, that is), receiving wildly enthusiastic reviews, opening to a shock $100 million (actually only 98...), and inspiring a permanent, indestructible comic book-based universe of interconnected films and imitators?
What kind of world would we live in now? There would be no Marvel summer box office domination, no perfect score of every single Marvel Cinematic Universe film being labeled "Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes (where is your Cars 2, Marvel? The fans demand it!), no reviewers intoning "they're finally getting comic book movies right". Liam Hemsworth might be the most famous individual ever with that last name, and if not Tobey Maguire, then Andrew Garfield would still be playing Spider-Man, instead of wasting time getting Oscar nominations (hey, I really liked The Amazing Spider-Man 2). Jurassic World could have been the first film to open above $200 million, and who doesn't have a soft spot for those cute little dinos?
And there would also be one less prominent example in the movies of that 20th century pop culture trope, the billionaire from New York who repeatedly saves the world through his know-how and smarts (indeed, it would appear the popularity of this archetype in American fiction may have helped lead to some real-world consequences. Big ones.).
Spider-Man: Homecoming is the last of summer 2017's sequels to three of the biggest films of summer 2007 (the other being Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers, now both on their fifth days out). Spider-Man is technically on day six, but the counter has been reset. Tobey Maguire was the first (we can call him the Spider-Man for the Greatest Generation, and for some of the older Baby Boomers), and Andrew Garfield was next, though their incarnations have now been wiped from the memory banks, with all copies destroyed and all witnesses to the act silenced. Sony's plans for The Amazing Spider-Man 3 (originally set for June 2016) and 4 (June 2018) faded into the island of cinematic nevermades, alongside that Sinister Six film that may some day escape back into our world.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe runs the show now, and the role of Spider-Man has been given to one Tom Holland, who turned 21 a few weeks ago, and was marvelous in The Impossible (2012). He looks enough like a real teenager to play the superhero who was specifically created to represent that age group in the 1960s, which was one of the decades that first helped define the very concept of a teenager (before that, they were really just anonymous farm workers helping dad out during busy season).
I have already spent time in this space questioning the casting of Aunt May, who was always written deliberately as a very elderly woman who raises a teenage boy she can never understand in many crucial ways, though does very much in others. (I suggested, rather than casting the decidedly age-inappropriate Marisa Tomei, my picks would have been Jennifer Lawrence or Kate Upton; having seen the Baywatch reboot, I would now add Kelly Rohrbach to the list of potentially great Aunt Mays).
The new Spider-Man also marks the screen debut of character Ned Leeds, who I best remember from a hilarious and frightening dream of Peter Parker's from a comic book published in the late 1980s (upon seeing Ned, Peter understandably asks, "Aren't you dead, Ned?", to which Leeds replies "Oh, my lord, you're right" and melts away into nothing). Zendaya plays Peter's other friend Michelle, who is counting the minutes until her big reveal as Mary Jane Watson (recall that Shailene Woody filmed scenes as MJ for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, so one way or the other, Ms. Watson always comes). The villain is one of my favorite Spider-Man bad-guys, the aeronautical The Vulture; I always imagined Terry O'Quinn in the role, but Michael Keaton gets the job here, and even if he doesn't much look like the character (neither as human nor as costumed fowl), at least it's Keaton we're getting.
Spider-Man: Homecoming has, of course, received the most positive reviews of the series bar Spider-Man 2 (2004), with the expected "he's the best Peter yet" and "He finally gets Parker right" quotes and their variations to be found in any number of assessments, including the inevitable "[This is] My new favorite Spider-Man film" (don't worry, the next reboot, which should hit around 2024 and star the new character Miles Morales, will get much of the same; recentism is just human nature, and I've long stopped objecting).
Spider-Man: Homecoming will prove a spectacular earner, of course, probably one-upping the opening weekend of the original Spider-Man, which in 2002 debuted with $114 million, the first film to open to over $100 million (gosh, it sure wasn't the last). The official Marvel seal of approval can re-ignite any blighted flame, and will send a strong signal to other Marvel superhero characters adrift in the sea of conflicting studio rights that it's time to come home. And they will.
The problem, for me if no one else, is the heavy presence in the film of Iron Man, a fact that has been advertised in abundance as if it were a plus. The film includes such sacrilegious material as Tony inventing the Spider-Man costume (nope) and then threatening to confiscate it (... definitely not). Tony even intones, "If you're nothing without this suit, then you shouldn't have it!", an ironic line to have been said by someone who walks around in shiny metal armor.
It won't happen, but the creatively right thing for Spider-Man: Homecoming would be for Tony Stark to die at the hands of the Vulture. Aside from justifying his presence in the film, it would provide motivation for Spider-Man and real stakes for the film (including a sort-of Uncle Ben moment that may otherwise be excluded from Spider-Man's origin story this time). Such a scene would also restore a sense of cinematic and cosmic balance - after all, Michael Keaton, the man who, along with Christopher Reeve, invented the modern-day big-screen superhero, would be taking down the man who began the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008 and gave it a new lease on life. (In a career that arguably dates back to 1970, that was Downey's first hundred million earner, by the way. It would not be his last).
By now, the character of Tony Stark has been overplayed and outworn. He has appeared in a film almost every single summer since that fateful May 1, 2008 night, and his story arc is complete.
I wish I could say to Tony what Ellen Ripley told the snarling, ravenous, bloodthirsty alien monster in Alien³, "I've known you so long I can't remember a time when you weren't in my life."
Opening weekend: $125 million / Total gross: $353 million
2. War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14th)
Here is a film with a single title and many call signs: it's the third entry in the new incarnation of the Planet of the Apes series, the fourth Apes film released in the 21st century, and the ninth Apes film overall! (I do this math so you can double-check it).
War concludes the transition back from homo sapien to orangutan, as humanity's long but futile journey comes to an end. Its most prominent human character in a scarce non-simian cast is a distinctly trigger-happy Woody Harrelson, who should be a blast to watch as he blasts away legions of oncoming apes (don't worry, I'm a huge animal lover), while the rare humans worth saving will be represented primarily by a young girl, whose handholding with a large hairy paw on the film's poster is a direct redo of a similar image from a poster of Logan earlier this year. There are some gorillas working alongside the humans, which is kind of cool, while elsewhere, Andy Serkis' performance as ape leader Caesar ought to inspire the usual impassioned internet pleas for an Oscar nomination to his name (... in vain).
A lot of people seem to really dig these new prequels to the ape-dominated universe, and while undeniably effective on a technical and emotional level, they've oddly never particularly engaged me: somehow I lack the interest in seeing three movies speed toward the inevitable, that place in time when humanity surrenders or essentially dies, a fact marked by the moment when Mark Wahlberg deigns to drop from the sky and discover the Lincoln memorial has suffered some rather... creative... redecorating?
War for the Planet of the Apes has received better reviews (95% Fresh on the meter) than the second film, Dawn of (90%), which itself received better reviews than the first prequel, Rise of (81%), although when you're dealing with numbers that high, such distinctions become trivial. Part 2 opened with $72 million and finished with $208 million in 2014, which bested Rise of the Apes (2011) but may in fact be about the ceiling for Apes movies, especially as the repeat business for Spider-Man takes away even a few battle-hardened science fiction fans from their date with humanity's destiny.
Opening weekend: $85 million / Total gross: $234 million
3. Dunkirk (July 21st)
Film buffs in particular are anticipating the latest from Christopher Nolan, who has quickly risen as one of the most revered (and commercially successful) new filmmakers of the 21st century. Most recently he was behind The Dark Knight Rises, which I thought was the best of the Batman films (sue me), and Interstellar, which played like a less mainstream and accessible version of Contact, and which also contained considerable brilliance among its two hour and forty nine minute running time (or at least that was the point I stopped watching it).
Having delivered some A-class fiction entertainment, Nolan here tackles a project that perhaps has some personal meaning for him. The 1940 battle of Dunkirk and the subsequent retreat is one of the most important early events of World War II, when British and other Allied soldiers were evacuated from a battle that had turned against them, allowing them to regroup their forces. This production is high class, well shot, and presumably big budget, with trailers that have almost uniformly consisted less of unconnected moments and more of a relatively linear series of scenes, depicting preparation, an impending attack, and alarm as the action is about to begin.
Dunkirk must by definition have a large ensemble cast, which is led by rising actors of the British Isles (Fionn Whitehead, Jack Lowden, and Barry Keoghan, chiefly), and surrounded on all sides by veterans like Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance, along with musician Harry Styles, making his acting debut in what doesn't look like a showy role. The film comes in at a lean 1:46, short not only for Nolan (it's his littlest film since his first), but also for your average 2017-era blockbuster, where every tentpole aims to ape the Transformers' fearsome running time (but without lots of FX shots of angry gun-toting robots to legitimately justify such length).
Dunkirk is a battle perhaps unknown to many American audiences, but maybe it helps to open the film more or less on the same weekend as the one claimed by one of the definitive World War II films, Saving Private Ryan, in 1998. The advertising promises lean, taut, action, depicting what look like mere hours in a momentous day. As an all-male cast in a hard-line British military setting, the film may have limits at the American box office, though assuming it is well reviewed (and there's no reason to assume otherwise), there's enough here for a decent hit in the U.S.; even if, as a straight-forward war thriller with no outlandish supernatural elements, it'll stand unique among this summer's top grossers. For a film like this, that's a win.
Opening weekend: $53 million / Total gross: $145 million
4. The Emoji Movie (July 28th)
Through lengthy research on Google, I learned that the emojis are vile, loathsome, and occasionally adorable creatures that live inside of small technological devices, emerging only with the purpose of expressing a precise and astute emotional reaction in appropriate situations (or to shrink small children and then snatch them away forever, if the occasion calls for that). Now the emojis, which first appeared in Japan in the late 1990s, are the stars of their own film, one presumably expected to deliver the fourth token $100 million grosser on July's fourth weekend. Most likely, they will succeed. It's still the rare CGI animation that fails to reach that milestone, and The Emoji Movie contains nothing about it that would nullify such a foregone conclusion.
A lot of the media seem to be excited about Patrick Stewart's casting as the Poop emoji. Whatever amuses them on tough days. The rest of the characters will be familiar to those few who have ever used iPhones or Androids or wherever these vicious little critters can be found.
In the film, the emojis will go on a bright and dangerous adventure, whereby the lead character (T. J. Miller) will learn an important life lesson, one that will be completely useless to him since, he is, at the end of the day, an emoji. Pop cultural references will be made, cleverly, and a few of the bigger movie buffs in the audience will surely take a mild and irrelevant pleasure at picking out the famous voice actors who echo on the screen.
With the advent of CGI, animation is a genre that has become a box office force like it never had been before. Previously, a summer season might include two notable animated films at maximum; now it can be three times that, and no one else complains.
It's gotten to the point that when given the task of forecasting a CGI animated blockbuster, I never much know what to write except that the film under discussion has a cute idea, will receive great reviews, and, subsequent to that, will make a lot of money. Usually, I am right. Sometimes, I'm only partially right (for example, the recent Captain Underpants had a cute idea and, justifiably, great reviews, but made only a semi-lot of money).
The success of this film, though, is much more clear-cut. Sequels will be made ("That comes later", as Bane said), and the cycle will remain unbroken.
Opening weekend: $49 million / Total gross: $140 million
5. Atomic Blonde (July 28th)
The title refers to nuclear power and Charlize Theron, who has emerged in this decade as an A-list action star, and who in this film plays a spy working her way through eliminating or at least injuring henchmen and characters actors in shadowy Berlin of 1989; not long before German reunification put her spy games in the region to a presumed end. The actress was wasted as a talky and nonchalant plot-motivator in the recent Fast and Furious movie, and here must make up for so much lost time.
Atomic Blonde is based on a graphic novel from a few years ago, and is helmed by David Leitch, creator of everyone's favorite pet avenger, John Wick. It is a period piece action film (those I always like; see one of my favorites, Watchmen, set in 1985), and co-stars James McAvoy, an actor who is now fated to be remembered by a mental picture of him screaming "Rejoice!" while wearing a dress in the recent thriller Split (sorry).
Atomic Blonde has already been seen and reviewed (very well at that). It comes in at basically the end of the summer action sweepstakes, and may suffer from the physical and moral exhaustion wrought upon a large percentage of its potential audience, who have sat through three months of violence, stylized jump-cuts, the elimination of hundreds of underlings who never had a chance, and the destruction of any number of major cities, often written off in a mere dialogue line or two.
This film presumably operates on a less overwhelming scale, and with Baby Driver breaking out out there, Atomic Blonde's potential success should be seen as another win for original and well-made action cinema.
Opening weekend: $16 million / Total gross: $54 million
6. Girls Trip (July 21st)
As the title describes with precise accuracy, this film is another entry in that always lively sub-genre, wherein a handful of lifelong friends participate in unexpected debauchery and bacchanalia while setting out on a road trip; they sing old songs, relitigate unhealed wounds, and change their unfulfilled lives in subtle or major ways.
Girls Trip is a broad comedy directed by Malcolm E. Lee, who helmed The Best Man films, and recent sequels to Barbershop and, alas, Scary Movie (no one is perfect). The quartet hitting the road this time are veterans Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall, and Queen Latifah, and relative newcomer Tiffany Haddish, while the city under attack here is New Orleans, skipping the usual Las Vegas festivities (not that that helped last month's Rough Night, which had its sights on Miami).
Speaking of which, I wouldn't have thought this a few weeks ago, but that surprisingly cheery and generally entertaining Rough Night will almost certainly be outgrossed by this film, a cousin in its genre that on paper would seem to be much less of a box office draw (as in politics, this is what happens when you clearly identify your base and get them to the box office).
Girls Trip is, interestingly, July's only outright comedy (Emoji Movie, I know, I know), a surprise for a month that's historically been used to premiere any number of hit funny films. In fact, in a summer of comedies that have largely underwhelmed, the film will probably at least beat the expectations of your average forecaster, even if critics decline to review it well. Girls Trip opens just about when Bad Moms did last year, and might offer a similar escape for its target demographic.
Opening weekend: $17 million / Total gross: $43 million
7. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (July 21st)
This special effects extravaganza is based on the 1960s French comic books Valérian and Laureline, which were said to have inspired Star Wars (thanks, I guess?) and now come reaping those spoils of war not already collected by its brash offspring.
The film Valerian is led full speed ahead by stars Dane DeHaan, one of my favorite co-generationists, and Cara Delevingne, the steely and statuesque model who was enigmatic in Paper Towns (2015) and psychoschematic in the unappealing Suicide Squad (2016) (don't bother looking up "psychoschematic"; I don't know what it means, either. No one does). Here, they are a sort-of intergalactic police force who presumably use diplomacy or very big guns to resolve errant conflict, because great fist-fighters, they are not. Val and Laur are aided by Clive Owen and Rihanna, maintaining human form, and by a number of actors who were not quite so lucky (only their voices remain, attached to frightening CGI-created behemoth from the deepest reaches of space).
Action and setting are the film's main attraction, both courtesy of the film's majestic $210 million budget, and of its director, Luc Besson; a man responsible for somewhat off-kilter genre entries that usually get good reviews and perform at least admirably at the box office - for example, in ascending order of domestic financial attainment - The Professional (1994), The Fifth Element (1997), and Lucy (2014). The success of that last film ($126 million on these shores) probably paid well for Valerian and its magnificent price tab, but Lucy was a somewhat novel idea, cleverly marketed (ten percent of your brain, and so on), and starring an established name in Ms. Scarlett.
I wish this new film well, but bright, brilliant, cities in the sky and meticulously-designed CGI beasts in recent films have not always inspired cordial box office returns. The City of a Thousand Planets should play well all over Europe, and probably in China, in addition to a couple of countries out in the great wide world where Valerian is not so easily confused with Voltron or Prince Valiant. Inside American borders, I see the film as a B-movie entertainment, and the man Valerian may yet remain an enigma to those who already love what he has inspired in the culture.
Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $32 million
8. Wish Upon (July 14th)
In a positive development, Wish Upon is one of three horror films in the coming months that have concepts, titles, and posters reminiscent of the old Goosebumps books - see the upcoming Polaroid (camera that is very evil) and Happy Death Day (pig-faced murderer strikes on groundhog day). First, we get this one.
...in which we revisit the old saw about the genie who grants you a couple of wishes and then decides he simply must kill you [shrugs shoulders], executed most memorably before in 1997's Wishmaster (don't ask) and brought back to the mainstream here.
Joey King, who as a child actress appeared in everything from Ramona & Beezus to The Dark Knight Rises, stars in Wish Upon as the teenager who gets a handful of wishes and then must flee for her life from the fast-running genie with a pickaxe. I imagine a teen-aimed horror film should do well right about now, spaced out roughly a month apart from last month's genially successful 47 Meters Down, and especially in a much less crowded field, with most other potential counterprogramming scared to brave its face out of the dark. The genius idea of making a horror film aimed at teens and rating it PG-13 was uncovered in the mid 2000s, after three decades of such motion pictures block-receiving R-ratings, and even over 10 years later horror with this family-friendly MPAA rating usually does well enough.
Opening weekend: $10 million / Total gross: $25 million